Deep dive with Pillars of Eternity project lead Josh Sawyer: The full interview

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Is there any voice acting? Is it like Baldur’s Gate where they say catch phrases?

JS: In terms of voice acting for dialogue, it’ll be more like those games. Only a few lines—

It’s me! Imoen!

JS: Yeah, important things, and then everyone will have voice sets which will work like that, hopefully with more variety. That’s also very similar to what we’ve done in other games with companions, even New Vegas—we write voice sets for those guys, and they have lots of different things plus scripted reactions and banter with each other which are very important, I know, to a lot of players, so we’ll have those as well.

When I was looking at the demo in there, you said the game is keeping track of diplomatic responses, etc. Is there a karma meter or something like that?

AB: No, but that’s our new reactive dialogue system. The game will track how you’re responding to people. I think there are twenty...

JS: There are ten dispositions.

AB: Okay. It’s our disposition system, which I’m not sure if we’re calling it that.

JS: It’s sort of like your personality reputations.

AB: Over time, people will react to that. If you keep picking the asshole responses, they’ll pick up on that and will react to that.

Is that a town to town thing or local?

JS: We have individual reputations for communities and stuff like that, and then we also have the personality ones which are more global, but fewer people will respond to those things—or rather, they’ll respond to them all over the world, and only specifically when they particularly care about that kind of reputation.

So for example, a cruel reputation—less people will necessarily care about that, but they’ll know about it all over the world. Once you build up enough of a rep, you’re that cruel guy. Or you’re really benevolent and nice.

Pillars of Eternity

But what we want to do is make it so that in Obsidian tradition, there are good things that come about from that and there are bad. If you keep choosing benevolent responses where you give things away for free or you’re just really nice or whatever, some people will be like “Oh, you’re a really cool guy, here’s a nice thing.” Other people will take advantage of you, they’ll assume you don’t need something because, “Oh, I assume you were going to do this for free because you’re the guy who’s really nice to everyone.” So sometimes it will work in your favor, sometimes it won’t.

So there would be a potential reward for being nice, but someone would scam you or whatever.

JS: Scam you or just think you’re a pushover or whatever.

AB: Picking the good option over time isn’t always the best thing to do.

So would it be useful to play true neutral through the entire game?

JS: What you would find in that circumstance is you’re going to get the lower threshold responses to you picking a variety of different things. Which is something we totally want to support. If you’re kind of cruel and kind of benevolent in equal measure, you won’t get the big responses where people are like, “Woah, you’re super whatever!” You’ll still get the lower ones, and you’ll get them for both sides.

Is it a series of bars where you’re either cruel or benevolent?

JS: It’s a sliding scale.

So it’s not like I can be super cruel and super benevolent at the same time?

JS: It would be really hard because in a lot of cases those will be mutually exclusive choices, but they’re not inherently opposed. Much like New Vegas, you could do good things and bad things in a community and wind up with a  mixed reputation. That’s also a possibility because we track them separately.

I assume with the faction reputation, they start out predisposed to certain reputations?

JS: It’s usually individual characters who have a reaction to [your reputation], less than entire organizations. Part of the reason for that is by having different characters in groups or characters within groups respond differently based on different things, it creates a more nuanced reaction to the type of character you are.

So for example, let’s say there’s a town—I love using this example. There’s a town that needs your help and there’s a temple of the god of mercy. This is a  fictional god, I’m just using it as an example. And the town is like, “Hey, help us, save the stuff, save the thing from these bandits.” And you go to the bandits and you’re like, “I’m here to save the people” and you’re like, super horrible to these days and you’re cruel as hell—you rescue the villagers but you’re like, scorched-earth...The bandits are like, “Please, we were just trying to get by!” and you’re like, “I don’t care,” and you crush the guy’s skull into the ground, and then you go around the world and you murder all these dudes. You come back to the town and everyone’s like, “Hey, I remember when you did all that!” and the little old lady at the Temple of the God of Mercy is like, “I don’t care what anyone else in this town thinks, I think you’re a piece of crap,” and you’re like “Ooooh.” She’s like, “You’re cruel as hell.”

Mixing those things should hopefully make it so it doesn’t feel like everyone in this community just flips over to thinking you’re the coolest guy in the world, or vice versa.

So it’s not Knights of the Old Republic-style where you’re either saving the village or killing the puppy.

JS: I think it’s more interesting when you can mix those things. You can be the cruel savior, the guy who scorched-earths his way across stuff and everyone’s like, “Well, I guess he’s helping people but he’s really a horrible dude.” Or you can have the very diplomatic horrible dude. You’re doing everything for the worst people, but you’re super polite and diplomatic and witty, and you can have reputations for being witty and diplomatic. You make more of a suave guy, rather than an explosive aggressive dude.

Pillars of Eternity

So it’s about mixing those things so the player feels like they can define who their character is and have more reactivity to it instead of just trying to imagine it.

Can you get locked out of content with that system?

JS: It’s less likely that you’ll get locked out of content and more likely that certain ways through content will be opened or closed based on how you played. It’s generally not super cool to say, “Well, you don’t get to see this thing,” and more fun to say, “Well, you can’t do it this way but figure out another way.” You get the coolness of the reactivity, and then instead of just saying no you say try something else. That makes it more of a game instead of just saying “You lose.”

Is it going to surface this stuff like Walking Dead—“He’ll remember you were witty.” Are you going to know how you’re playing? Or are you going to keep it hidden from the player?

JS: You can turn all that stuff off. You can turn off the types of dispositions you’re activating, so you’ll have to intuit “That sounds like a super-assholey thing to say,” but it doesn’t say like “Aggressive” or “Cruel” or whatever.

You can turn off the ability to see what your reps are at all.

But there definitely will be delayed reactions. If you’re just like, “Fox you, idiot,” he’ll obviously have the immediate reaction to you saying that, but it might be another character later who responds to how you completed the quest or generally responds to the fact that you’re a certain type of person, like, “Oh yeah, you’re captain smartypants.” And with the personality reputations it’s less about the specific things you’ve done, like “You were a smartass to Lady Whatsherface.” It’s more like “You’re the smartass guy. You’re the guy who’s always cracking wise and making everyone else feel like a big idiot.”

For normal players it will show you...

JS: It will show you this is this type of response, it increased it by this amount, but you can turn all that stuff off. That’s something we saw in—I think Neverwinter...

AB: Star Wars...

JS: Star Wars, stuff like that. Some people want to see it, other people don’t. It’s procedural for us, so it’s relatively easy to go “Don’t show it.”

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